It is quite amazing the affect that cooking can have on unripe fruit – not only does it render the flesh soft and yielding, but it also brings out the flavour. With so much unripe fruit on sale, I find cooking the answer for most pears as well as apricots, peaches, nectarines. With quinces it has always been a requirement if you wish to eat the flesh, although the smell of a ripe quince can scent a whole room and makes them worth buying for that purpose alone. A few slices added to cooked pears elevates the whole dish to new heights, whilst a spoonful of quince jelly is my standards way for both sweetening and flavouring apple purée to serve with pork.
Pear and Ginger Up-side Down Cake
First though, my favourite recipe for cooking pears, which comes from Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book, under the title Springfield Pear Cake. Although described as an upside-down “cake”, it is more of a pudding than a cake for serving with tea.
2 tbsps syrup from preserved ginger
3 or 4 large firm pears
juice of a lemon
4oz/125g softened butter
4oz/125g caster sugar
3½oz/100g self-raising flour
1 level tsp baking powder
1oz/30g ground almonds
2 large eggs
4 knobs of preserved ginger, coarsely chopped
3-4 tbsps syrup from preserved ginger
Take a cake tin that measures 9½-10″ (23-25cm) across and is at least 1¼” (3½cm)
deep. Set it over a low heat and put the butter in to melt, pushing it up and around the sides to grease them. Add the sugar and syrup and stir until it is bubbling and has turned a pale toffee colour. Remove from the heat.
Peel, core and thinly slice the pears turning the slice in lemon juice on a plate so that they do not discolour. Arrange them in two rings of overlapping slices on the toffee base so that it is evenly covered.
Put all the cake ingredients apart from the stem ginger into a food processor or electric mixer and process until smooth. Stir in the chopped ginger and spread over the pears.
Bake at 190°C/Gas Mark 5 for 45 minutes. If the top is richly brown and well risen, turn the heat down to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Continue cooking for a further 15 minutes or until the cake is beginning to come away from the sides and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool for a few minutes, then run a palate knife around the sides to ensure that none of the cake is sticking. Take a serving plate with a rim larger than the cake tin and place it on top. Holding the cake tin firmly against the plate (use a cloth to protect you from the heat), invert the cake in one quick action. Some juices will flow, hence the need for a rim on the plate.
Serve whilst still warm, with good thick cream.
Poached Pears or Quinces
This is ideal for transforming Warden (cooking) pears or firm dessert pears, in fact it doesn’t work if you use ripe pears. Perry is the obvious drink to use, but not easy to come by everywhere, so you can instead use red, or even white wine. I have included instructions for preserving this dessert. The pears do then acquire a rather “tinned” texture, but if you have an excess of pears to use up it is a handy standby to keep in the cupboard.
1 bottle of red wine or Perry
8 whole cloves
4 allspice berries
3 strips of lemon peel
1 vanilla pod, split
6-12 pears (depending on size and whether whole or halved – halved will fit more efficiently into preserving jar)
Pour the wine or Perry into a non-reactive saucepan that is large enough to hold all of the pears snugly. Add the sugar and flavourings. Heat gently, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat whilst you prepare the pears.
Peel the pears leaving their stalks intact and place them in the wine immediately they are peeled to prevent them discolouring.
When all of the pears are in the pan, heat until the syrup begins to boil then turn down to a simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. If you want to serve any of the pears immediately, i.e. without preserving, leave them in the liquid for half an hour or so to absorb the colour and flavour, but this stage will happen during sterilising and storing if you are preserving the pears.
Wash two 1 litre jars in hot water. The clamp top and rubber ring type have the widest mouths if you wish to preserve the pears whole. If you put the pears in alternating between putting them in broad end or stem end first you should fit 6 pears in a one litre jar, but this depends on the type and shape of the pears, halved pears will fit more efficiently. The wine syrup may now be boiled and reduced by about a third so that the syrup is thickened before bottling. Use a funnel to pour the syrup over the pears leaving a headspace of about 2.5 cm (an inch) in each jar. The cinnamon sticks, placed across the top, will help prevent the pears rising above the level of the liquid. Any surplus syrup is excellent added to more wine to serve as a hot mulled drink.
Loosely fasten the jars (clamp tops will need to be fastened) and place them on a folded cloth or trivet in a pan tall enough to cover the jars by an inch or more. Cover with hot water and bring slowly up to 88˚C (this should take about 25-30 minutes). Hold at this temperature for an hour, topping up the water if necessary so that the jars remain covered.
Remove the pan from the heat and ladle out sufficient water to be able to lift out the jars. Place the jars on a wooden surface, tighten the seals and leave until completely cold. Test the seal the following day.
Variation: Quinces can be preserved in exactly the same way although for these I would choose a white dessert wine in place of the red wine. They are delicious in an autumn fruits trifle.
Quarter a quince and see how easy it is to cut out all of the tough fibrous core. I found it necessary to slice each quarter again to do this, in which case it is easier to leave the peel on until the core is removed to prevent the slices breaking up. If you can get away with only quartering and still remove all of the hard core you will find it quicker to peel the quinces first. Either way you are aiming for peeled segments with no hard core remaining. If you are making Quince Paste or Jelly at the same time the flavour can be extracted from the trimmings in these recipes.
Poach the quince with all the other ingredients until just tender before moving on to preserving.
Pear and Ginger Chutney
This recipe is useful if you grow your own pears as there is likely to be a greater quantity than you can eat in one go and it is also a good way of using up windfalls or those with blemishes that make them unsuitable for storing.
Makes 3 medium jars
600 ml malt vinegar
3 cm of fresh root ginger
2 dried red chillies
2 whole cloves
1 kg pears
1 cooking apple
3 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp sea salt
175g dark brown sugar
175g seedless raisins, rinsed and roughly chopped
3 knobs of stem ginger, preserved in syrup, finely chopped
Firstly make your own spiced vinegar by tying slices of root ginger, the chopped red chillies, cloves and lemon rind in muslin and infusing in the warmed vinegar whilst you prepare the rest of the chutney.
Chop the onion and cook gently in a little vegetable oil. Peel and finely chop the cooking apple and add this to the pan. Now peel and finely chop the pears and add them to the pan with the crushed cloves of garlic. Cook the whole lot together until completely soft.
Remove the spice bag from the vinegar, add the juice of the lemon, salt and sugar. Stir until all of the sugar is dissolved then bring to the boil and add the washed and roughly chopped raisins plus the finely chopped stem ginger. Pour all of this over the softened fruit and continue cooking for approximately an hour and a half by which time the vinegar should have evaporated leaving a thick and dark pulp.
Pot into warm sterilised jars and seal immediately. Mature for a couple of months before eating.
I use the term “paste” to encompass various preparations of fruit purée – in this case quince. When it is cooked to just a spreading consistency it is usually known as a “butter” – spiced apple butters are the best known and a particular speciality of Jersey. These do not need to contain as much sugar as firmer preparations, but this does diminish the keeping quality. A “cheese” is cooked for longer, with an equal weight of sugar to its initial volume. This should be kept for at least 6 weeks before using, and it can then be turned out and served in slices, usually with cheese. Quince cheese is most popular in Spain where it is called Membrillo. “Confits” are small lozenges of this firm paste, and were popular in Britain, served with a dessert. Modern variations sometimes coat them in chocolate for serving with coffee. A useful way of storing them is amongst sugar in an airtight container. Not only will the confits be sugar coated for serving but also the surplus sugar will take one the aroma and flavour and can be used in other recipes.
Quince paste is most economically made with the pulp remaining after making Quince Jelly, although the flavour will be slightly stronger if the juice is not extracted for this. Practically you would need a much larger quantity of quince than given in this recipe to produce enough juice for jelly.
1 kg of whole quinces plus any trimmings from other recipes
Water to cover
Sugar (approximately 1kg)
Wash the down from the quinces and chop them roughly into eighths without peeling. Put everything into a preserving pan and just cover with water. Simmer gently for about an hour until the fruit can easily be pulped with a potato masher. If you are intending to extract juice for jelly you may need to add a little more hot water if the fruit is very dry.
When the fruit is of a pulping consistency put it through the finest blade of a mouli-legumes. If you don’t have one of these you will have to use a sieve but it is harder work!
Now weigh the pulp. Return it to the rinsed out preserving pan and re-warm before adding an equal weight of sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar and then continue to stir regularly as it simmers as otherwise it will quickly burn. After about an hour or so you should be barely able to push the spoon through the purée and when you do so it should leave a very distinct line through it. At this stage it is firm enough to make cheese.
There are various ways of storing Quince cheese but think about the small portions you will be serving it in. I have made it in a loaf tin, lined with waxed paper. You can then cut slices from it before re-wrapping but really unlidded containers should be sealed with paraffin wax. Another option is to use ramekins if you have enough as these make good sized portions. To make them easier to turn out neatly coat the inside first with glycerine. Oil is an alternative. Whilst the purée is still hot cover each ramekin with a circle of waxed paper, smoothing it with your finger to exclude air bubbles. When cold wrap the whole ramekin in cling film and store in the fridge. Lidded jars are an option that would enable you to form a seal and store the cheese in a cool cupboard. However they can be difficult to turn out and the portions are usually too large to use in one serving.
If you want to make some comfits, spoon the purée into a shallow baking tin lined with waxed paper. They should be only a centimetre or so deep. Once set you can cut the shapes you want and then store them in sugar in an airtight container.
The paste will get firmer and the flavour more pronounced the longer it is stored so try to keep for at least 6 weeks before using.
This recipe originates from Lockets, a London Gentleman’s Club (now closed) where it was common practise to serve a Savoury course before (or instead of) dessert. It also makes an excellent lunch. I give the recipe below as served by Lockets, but suggest one alteration – I think the watercress is best chopped in a food processor with a little butter then spread on the toast. Larger leaves tend to burn in the cooking but would be good served alongside the finished dish.
For 2 slices of toasted bread:
A little watercress
1 ripe pear
3 oz Stilton cheese
Remove the crusts from the toasted bread and lay the slices in an ovenproof dish. Arrange the watercress evenly on top and then cover with thin slices of peeled pear. Cover this with slices of Stilton cheese and then place in a moderate oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until the cheese begins to melt. Grind black pepper on top before serving.
See also A Partridge in a Pear Tree.